Hot spring etiquette: Please, do hot-bath like a pro.
A place to meditate ?
Hot springs are often marketed for their positive effects on health: skin, articulations, cardio-vascular system, muscular relaxation… depending on its mineral content, the hot water is supposed to have an impact on your body. As the Romans used to say - and they were enjoying hot springs too - mens sana in corpore sano : healthy mind in a healthy body. In Japan, we could also say that the reverse is true: healthy body in healthy mind as both together create a whole.
This is when hot springs come into the picture. Hot springs are above all, a contemplating, activity designed to rejuvenate your mind. The hot water and the sulphur smell have that pacifying effect on you. If you keep that in mind, you will be all right.
Here is your check list before you go inside :
- Do you have a towel with you? If you don’t, try to find a « tenugui » shop and get one of those. It’s made of coton and comes in many colors and patterns. It will be one of your best souvenir from Japan. Hot springs are so hot that you will dry very fast so a tenugui is enough. The last one I got in Kusatsu represents the Milky Way. It is so beautiful that the shop owner showed it off in a frame. It was the last one. He suggested to take it from the frame for me. I was a bit embarrassed by his kind offer but I could not resist and as a gift to myself, I got the Milky Way.
- Do you have tattoos? If you do, you should know that many places (not all) will refuse you because public bath are traditionally forbidden to mafia people, who are recognized because of their tattoo. Today, body art is not restricted to the mafia anymore and you will find many places that tolerates them. It’s good to ask before you enter the place. If it is small, you might have to hide it with a band-aid. You can also go to a spa with private bath section.
- Hot spring in Japan is in the nude so it can be intimidating. There is no promiscuity and nobody’s watching though… It is also gender-segregated (usually). So, keep cool, don’t watch others, and get over the first embarrassing moment.
- First you undress totally. No swimsuits. Don’t worry, the hot springs are not gender-mixed. Keep cool and discreet, hide-away critical parts without making a fuss and you will be all right.
- You go in the bath area and first take a shower and wash effusively with a lot of foam. After all you will use the same bath as other people and you want the water to be clean. By taking a shower, you return the courtesy to everyone. When you leave your shower spot, rinse the shower set.
- Now, time has come to go into the water. It is very hot and you need to do it smoothly. No diving, no splashing… You are about to enter that sacred shore that will free your mind and relax your body and so is everyone else. If you are not sure, check out how everyone does.
- There is one thing you need to really care for: always leave your towel outside the water. It is rude to put your towel in the water. Japanese people sometimes fold their towel neatly and put it on their head. I think it is just an easy way to keep an eye on your towel and not drop it in the water. You can also leave your towel on the side. If it inadvertently falls in the water, it happens, dry it outside the bath.
- In all circumstances, keep your head out of the water. It is easier to breathe, you know.
- Hot springs are dedicated to relaxation and contemplation. Of course, you can discuss with your friends and some people will talk to you but in a quiet manner.
What do you do after a hot spring? You get a glass of water and relax in the lounge area. You can also have diner, a refreshing beer, and just enjoy the time that you have dedicated to yourself.